Italy team reporter Paolo Menicucci reveals the secrets behind the Azzurri's success so far.
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Italy face Austria in the UEFA EURO 2020 round of 16 on Saturday after a scintillating group stage. The Azzurri won all three Group A games, scoring seven goals, conceding none and playing an attacking, entertaining brand of football in the process.
Roberto Mancini’s men travel to London unbeaten in their last 30 international matches (W25 D5); avoid defeat by Austria and they would surpass even the record of Vittorio Pozzo’s 1930s side. That Mancini's team have won their last 11 games without conceding a goal is further reason for optimism.
Why has Mancini used 25 players in three games?
All the Azzurri players continue to emphasise how united this group is. "There's plenty of competition, as we are 26 good players," Federico Bernardeschi told EURO2020.com. “But that must not be detrimental to the national team and to our shared objective. In my opinion this is fundamental to achieving a really big result.”
But there is more. Mancini was the only player in the squad not to play a single minute of Italy's 1990 FIFA World Cup campaign on home soil – his desire not to inflict a similar fate on any of his current squad shone through when he replaced Gianluigi Donnarumma with Salvatore Sirigu late on against Wales. Only third-choice keeper Alex Meret is yet to play.
Good luck kiss
Do you remember France centre-back Laurent Blanc’s ritual of kissing goalkeeper Fabien Barthez on his bald head immediately before each game to bring his team luck? The Azzurri – especially Leonardo Bonucci – are doing the same with Mancini’s assistant Attilio Lombardo, known fondly by certain fans as 'The Bald Eagle'.
Lombardo is one of several of Mancini's former Sampdoria team-mates now working with the national team. His former strike partner Gianluca Vialli is the head of the Italy delegation, while Alberico Evani, Giulio Nuciari and Fausto Salsano are also on the staff.
Everybody knows tournament mascot Skillzy but Italy also have their own lucky charm, a sheepdog puppy figure created by late Oscar-winning modeller Carlo Rambaldi. Italian Football Federation (FIGC) president Gabriele Gravina said Rambaldi, who died in 2012 after winning three Oscars for his creations in movies like E.T, Alien and King Kong, first showed him the sketches for the mascot in 2007. "Now we have finally made it and given Carlo his fourth Oscar," said Gravina.
Another three-time Oscar winner, musician Giorgio Moroder, wrote 'Un'estate Italiana' – which is known as the soundtrack of the 1990 World Cup in Italy – alongside Italian singers Gianna Nannini and Edoardo Bennato. Giorgio Chiellini, the oldest player in the Italy squad, was just six during that World Cup, while 19 players in this team were not even born.
Nevertheless, this is the song the Azzurri fans and players are singing to celebrate wins this summer. 'Notti magiche' – magic nights – it goes. There were a few of those in Rome during the group stage.
There was not only music to celebrate the qualification to the knockout stage. After the victory against Wales, the Azzurri had a free day in Coverciano and received a visit from Ciro Oliva, a famous pizzaiolo from Naples and great friend of Lorenzo Insigne. Oliva prepared pizza for everyone in camp – what better way to celebrate than the perfect Margherita?